Iceland is one of the most unique and iconic destination in the world. That’s why it is a very attractive country for any traveler and photographer. In one country, there is almost everything you can dream for – wild nature, hidden waterfalls, spectacular views with a mix of sceneries and colours as you keep on exploring. From the black sand at Reynisfjara to the magic blue and white colours from the icebergs, the red tones of the geyser and the volcanic terrain and of course a bright green everywhere around us during our drive. In short, the beauty of this country kept us open-mouthed from the first hour we landed until we got back to the airport :).
As a result Iceland is becoming a more and more popular tourist destination. It is true that some famous landmarks can get busy, but it never felt crowded to us even if we travelled in summer. At several places we were the only ones around and were able to enjoy the otherworldly landscapes that made us feel like as explorers.
In total we spent 5 days in Iceland in the last week of August 2018. In this post, we described how we spent almost a week to explore this country from Reykjavík. Renting a car is a must and the best way to explore this country. However, it is worth mentioning that this itinerary does not require a 4*4 as recommended for a longer itinerary. As we wanted to enjoy as much as possible the majestic nature around us, we decided to pack quite a bit each day. We drove about 5 hours per day and travelled about 1,000 kilometres.
Of course this 5-day road trip itinerary is the perfect amount of time to spend if you are looking for a good introduction to this country. It is for those who don’t have a lot of time but want to get a feel of the country and see some of the best it has to offer. Now we just want to return to explore the North and the Icelandic fjords.
Our 5 days itinerary
- #1 – Keflavík International Airport – Þingvallavatn lake – Geysir – Gullfoss – Hvolsvöllur
- #2 – Skógafoss waterfall – Reynisfjara beach and the glacier Jökulsárlón
- #3 – Walk up to the Mont Reynisfall – Mýrdalsjökull glacier and Seljalandsfoss waterfall
- #4 – Kerið – Reykjavík
- #5 – Reykjavík – Blue Lagoon – The Reykjanes peninsula – Keflavík International Airport
Day 1 – Driving to the Golden Circle – 200km (4H30 drive)
Let’s explore the majestic Þingvallavatn lake
We landed at 10.00am at Keflavík International Airport, which is the main international airport in Iceland. So it is very likely that your exploration of Iceland will start from there. Then we quickly checked in at the car rental, we decided to go with a compact car for this trip. We drove on the road 1 direction Vik and then we took the road 435 and further the road 360 to go direction the Þingvallavatn lake. After just only a few kilometres we were quickly open-mouthed by the beauty of the landscapes. So we had to stop to take our first photos.
As we drove along the lake we enjoyed a nice scenery. However, it is a quite bumpy road even if it is allowed to all cars. The Þingvallavatn (the name is most commonly anglicised as Thingvelli) lake is picturesque and the largest lake in Iceland.
The lake is located in the Thingvellir National Park.
After stopping in a supermarket to buy some food for our lunch, we parked in Geysir a very touristic town. It was the most crowded spots that we visited in Iceland. However, it is a must-see place. The site is a vast plain with several boiling hot springs. Only one geyser – the Strokkur – is currently active. It erupts every 5-7 minutes, spouting water up to 50meter in the air. So the good news is you never have to wait long to see it in action ;).
We also explored the whole area as there are other small boiling mud pools. We walked up to the small hill to have a panorama on both sides with a view on the Strokkur but also a view on nice hills behind us.
The Gullfoss waterfall
Just a few minutes drive from Geysir, we parked at Gullfoss to admire those 2 enormous waterfalls. I was excited because for me the waterfall is one of the first picture I have in mind when I think of Iceland. We took our time in this spot as it was the last one of the day.
First we walked up to the top section. It is a very huge and impressive waterfall. The total height is 32 meter and on average the waterflow is around 140m3/second.
Then we walked down up to second view point with less tourists. The walking path to the viewpoints is great because we could get really close to the falls. But one tip don’t forget to take your raining jacket. Although it was not raining, we were splashed ;). And we were lucky to catch our first rainbow over the waterfall.
Finally we drove up to our first hotel – the Guesthouse Húsið located close to Hvolsvöllur. We stopped at the first restaurant we spotted in Hvolsvöllur just to eat a warm soup. In short, we were completely exhausted after this first full day!
But by the way, what is the Golden circle ;)?
The golden circle is the iconic day trip from Reykjavik that we just described above. In total, there are 3 main landmarks to visit – the Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir geotermal area and the Gullfoss waterfall. This is the most popular area in Iceland. That’s why it is very likely that it will be part of your itinerary, no matter how long or short.
Day 2 – More waterfalls, black sand beach up to the stunning glaciers and icebergs at Jökulsárlón – 385 km (8H drive)
We checked out our guesthouse early as we had a very long day ahead us. It was the most packed day of our road trip but it was definitely worth it :). Without any doubt, it was my favourite day in Iceland.
We stopped briefly at Seljalandsfoss waterfall. If it is possible we recommend you to plan this stop in the afternoon. Despite a sunny morning the waterfall was in the shadow and was not too good to photograph. Therefore we did not spend much time there. On the opposite we came back the following day at 7.00 pm and it was much nicer :). We’re talking about it a bit more on Day 3.
As we kept driving on the road 1, we stopped 30 minutes later to fly the drone over an unknown but not less majestic waterfall.
Then we drove direction the Skógafoss waterfall. We stopped along the road to meet with some Icelandic horses. I love horses and it was a great moment. True they are little but strong and sometimes stubborn ;). Along your road trip, you will find these colourful creatures in the meadows! The most common colour is chestnut but these beautiful horses come in over 40 colours. You will probably be seduced by at least one of them :). In total, they are about 80,000 Icelandic horses (compared to a human population of 315,000). They are a token of the Icelandic nation and its pride and joy.
We arrived at Skógafoss at 11.00 am. It is one of the biggest waterfall in Iceland, with a drop of 62m and a width of 25m. It is very funny as you can walk right up to it. We laughed a lot because both of us got completely drenched ;). It is impressive when you get closer to feel the sensation and to hear the waterflow. And you can take a photo with a wall of water behind you.
Then we climbed about 400 steps to the top of the Skógafoss waterfall to enjoy a nice view. There are many hikers as it is a starting point of a popular hiking route – the Fimmvorduhals pass.
Skógafoss is a unique waterfall because it comes from two glaciers – Myrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull. It is likely that you are familiar with the second one as its volcano erupted in 2010 which disrupted the European air traffic for several weeks!
We continued our drive and stopped to a supermarket in Vík. We bought some sandwiches for our lunch and some food to cook our diner. Despite it looks like a tiny village, it is in fact the only southern “town” if you keep driving to the East of Iceland.
We always tried to find nice place to park when eating along the road. That’s why we decided to stop at this famous black sand beach – Reynisfjara. When we discovered it, our definition of beach changed for ever! Instead of white sands, blue lagoon and palm trees, we came across a black sandy beach with pebbles and strong waves.
We were impressed with this truly unique spot. Due to its magic combination of a black sand beach and massive lava basalt columns, this place attracts so many photographers.
The beach seems to strech off for several kilometres. We enjoyed playing with the waves along the beach. And we discovered Hálsanefshellir – a small cave on the coastline. What a perfect spot for our lunch :).
As mentioned this second day of our road trip was the most packed one. Hence we did not stay too long in this beautiful spot. It is also on our itinerary on the following day for a hike. See more details in our Day 3.
Jökulsárlón – the spectacular glacier
We checked in to our hotel. And then we drove direction to Jökulsárlón.
When we planned our trip, Alexis was septic about going there due to the long drive. But I managed to convince him and we didn’t regret one second this choice.
What a stunning spot … ! I will not find the right words to describe both the beauty of this place and the amazing shades of blue of the iceberg.
This place is somewhere you need to see with your own eyes to believe. It is a pretty mind blowing experience to discover the brightness and the colours of this spot.
In short, we spent almost 4 hours in this spectacularly dreamy place as we decided to eat our salad in front of this amazing scenery.
There was no better place to eat our diner! It is one of the best spot I have ever explored. It was just overwhelming sitting next to it :).
This glacier is the most famous one in Iceland. Its ice tongue ends in a small lagoon where huge chunks of ice break down and drift through the lagoon, towards the ocean. We read that the size of the lake has almost doubled since 1975. It is incredibly frightening as we know it results from the melting and the fall of icebergs from the great glacier due to the global warming.
To sum up if you are planning a 5 days road trip direction to the South of Iceland, don’t skip this glacier. If you are a nature lover and/or a photographer, it will be one of your biggest mistake.
Day 3 – Walk up to the Mont Reynisfall and walking on the Mýrdalsjökull glacier – 160 km (3H30 drive)
We drove back direction to Vík. We stopped along the road to take some pictures with the lava fields and captured those different shades of yellow and gray.
Reynisfjara – walk up to the Mont Reynisfall
We were excited with driving back to Reynisfjara and discovering it with an alternative view from the Mont Reynisfall. There is almost no information available on the travel blogs on this walk despite its very rewarding view. We parked close to the information center at Vik. And then we walked a clear path up to the top. The view from the top is even more spectacular than from the shore of Reynisfjara.
The cherry on the cake, this mountain holds thousands of puffins during the summer season. What an incredible magic spectacle to watch then during our lunch break! A non stop ballet of puffins landing and taking off just a few meters from us. These adorable creatures are one of the mascot of Iceland.
On our way back we met with a few sheep. It was fantastic as we did not met any single people just wildlife during those 2 hours walk. If you have a reasonable of fitness, we definitely recommend this walk with such a dramatic backdrop.
Then we stopped at a coffee shop to try to warm up as it was a quite windy walk.
Mýrdalsjökull – glacier
The next stop of our itinerary was Mýrdalsjökull – the glacier of the ‘mire valley’.
We arrived at 4.30 pm so it was too late to join an excursion to climb the glacier. However if you arrive earlier we recommend to join one of its expedition for an incredible ice adventure at Mýrdalsjökull.
Although we did not take part to any glacier hiking, we still enjoyed a fun afternoon. We spent almost 2 hours there. We flew the drone to explore the surroundings.
The last spot of the itinerary was the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. As explained above, we briefly already stopped there on the second day. But at sunset, the colour and the brightness were much more interesting. We even walked behind the waterfall with our rain jacket to capture the power of the water.
We checked in to a nice guest house – Klausturhof Guesthouse. The road to go there was very bumpy and most of the path is gravelling for about 20 minutes. We shared our diner with a couple in the shared kitchen which told us their adventure in the North of Iceland. In short, they confirmed that is worth coming back for another trip to explore the Northern area of Iceland and its majestic and remote fjords ;).
Day 4 – Discovering the Kerið crater and exploring Reykjavík – 150 km (3H drive)
We drove for about 2 hours to reach our first stop – Kerið, which is right on the Golden Circle.
After parking, we discovered this volcanic crater formed out 6,500 years ago by volcanic magma being drained by a nearby volcano eruption, causing the surface to collapse. We didn’t really know what to expect. In fact it is a deep, almost circular volcanic crater with a lake in the middle, which is about 10 metres deep, depending of the rainfall. We walked around the rim of the crater. There is a nice view on the surrounding landscape and on the lake of the crater.
However to be honest if you are doing only a 4 days itinerary you can skip it as this is not the most impressive place we visited during this road trip. However if you are planning a road trip in winter, keep it to your itinerary as we read it is a perfect location for watching the Northern lights.
We checked in early and parked at our guest house, which was very convenient as you don’t need a car to visit the city. We just arrived at Reykjavík around lunch time. But what an expedition to find a lunch place that is affordable! After eating a sandwiches and salads every lunch we were just looking for a warm meal! However, it was quite difficult to find a restaurant where we can eat for less than 30 EUR/person, even for just a small meal. Finally we pretty much visited all the city centre just by looking for an affordable restaurant! We found one local place, which is now closed.
Although we did a lot of search to identify the key highlights, the list is pretty limited for a capital. We stopped at the Hallgrímskirkja church which is Reykjavík’s main landmark. The architecture of this Lutheran church is original. This tower can be seen from almost everywhere in the city.
Reykjavík’s main landmarks
We also stopped at the Harpa, which is a concert hall. It can be surprising to visit a concert hall. But this building has a unique and interesting architecture. It is also completely free to go in and walk around.
There is another famous spot a few minutes away from the Harpa – the Sólfar (Sun Voyager in English). This steel sculpture is placed on the waterfront. It is shaped somewhat like a boat and is supposed to be an ode to the sun. It was difficult to catch the ode to the sun due to pouring rain.
We were indeed not lucky as it was literally raining cats and dogs during our visit of Reykjavík! We stopped in a library coffee shop to enjoy a much deserved hot chocolate after spending a few hours visiting the city under a storm ;( !
How long to stay in Reykjavík?
In short maybe it is because of this awful weather but we would not recommend to spend more than a few hours to explore this city. In our opinion from a touristic perspective Reykjavik is not really interesting. Iceland has so much beautiful landscapes and majestic nature. We would have prefer to extend a little our trip in the East of Iceland on Day 2 and Day 3 instead of “saving” time to visit Reykjavík. We noticed that a couple of other bloggers shared our opinion on this point!
Note – for diner we found a very nice restaurant with local food. We enjoyed some very tasty fish. Unfortunately we don’t share the address as we noticed that this restaurant is now closed. But if you search ahead of time you might find a few good local restaurants.
Day 5 – Relaxing morning at the Blue Lagoon and epic pictures from the Reykjanes peninsula – 100 km (2H drive)
We checked out of our guest house early as we booked tickets to visit the famous Blue Lagoon. It is about 45 minutes drive from Reykjavík.
Let’s relax and chill at the Blue Lagoon
We were super excited with discovering this hot spring. When we planed our trip we thought that this nice treat will be a perfect experience to finish our Icelandic trip. We were not disappointed – it was a really enjoyable moment to relax with a mud mask and a cocktail in such amazing hot thermal pool! See our dedicated post which some tips and practical information about the Blue Lagoon.
One of the first things we noticed was the light blue – milky colour. While it looks blue, the water is actually white. The sun simply makes it look blue! The water in the Blue Lagoon originates 2,000 meters below the surface and is full of silica, algae, and minerals which gives it very atypic colour. The water is brought up from a geothermal power plant next door and used to create electricity for nearby communities before it goes into the lagoon. As a result it is not a natural hot spring.
This aquamarine coloured water and thick white silica mud are known to make your complexion bright and your skin super-soft. We were surprised the water is not so hot. It felt more like warm bathwater. The temperature usually ranging between 37 and 40 degrees Celsius (98 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit).
The times flies so fast. We stayed about 2h30 – once you get inside, you can stay as long as you like.
Visit the Blue Lagoon or not ?
If you are planning a trip in Iceland – it is very likely that you will ask this question. We read contradicting comments on the Blue Lagoon on different blogs. True it is a very expensive experience as we paid 9,990 ISK/person. And yes it is a touristy spot. So is it worth it anyway? Absolutely yes, especially if you are here only for a few days.
However, we really recommend to get there as early as possible. The Blue Lagoon opens at 8am. It will enable you to enjoy the spot with less tourist. As a result you will enjoy the vastness of the geothermal pools in peace. After 11am the spot becomes quite crowded. You must pre-book your tickets online to select one day and a time slot. The sooner you book your ticket the better it is since the price increase as you get closer to the date. The Blue Lagoon has become increasingly popular in the last few years, so it has modernised and expanded.
For information, if you are planning a 2 weeks road trip – it may be worth checking natural hot springs in the North of the country (for example Mývatn Nature Baths). It seems the experience is comparable to the Blue Lagoon but without the 2 main downsizes (i.e much less tourists and of course cheaper)!
The Reykjanes peninsula – Gunnuhver and Valahnúkamöl Cliff
Don’t stop your trip there in direction to the airport. There is still 2 last spots to discover in the Reykjanes peninsula ;). At only a few kilometres from the Blue Lagoon we explored a highly active geothermal area called Gunnuhver, which is the biggest mud pool. This pool is said to have gotten its name from the mad female ghost that haunted the area.
And we eventually made it to Valahnúkamöl, a coastline shaped by both the lava and the fierce waves of the sea. It is a perfect spot to take some last pictures from Iceland.
What a spectacular view on the cliff! Stand here gave us the feeling to be at the end of the world. This scenery is a perfect definition of Iceland – majestic and wild nature :).
Goodbye Iceland 🇮🇸
What an amazing road trip – I will never forget those 5 epic days :)! It is hardly impossible to describe our experience… but at least I tried and hopufully succeed! If you are a nature lover, you enjoy discovering remote places and capturing wild and iconic landscapes, you must visit Iceland once in your lifetime. I wholeheartedly recommend this country to any curious explorer and adventurous photographer.
Our plane did not even took off that I already wanted to go back to explore the majestic Northern area of Iceland. If we have the opportunity to come back in this country, it would probably be in winter to play the Northern lights hunters 🙂 Alexis are you ready to check in a second time ;)?
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